From virtual reality porn to anatomically correct droids, modern technology is trying its hardest to revolutionize not only the way we have sex, but who – or what – we have sex with.
Images are buffed, streamlined and rendered perfectly, allowing us all to fall deeply in lust with the idea of digitally-manipulated fantasy.
One artist responsible for this modern renaissance in sex tech is undoubtedly Hajime Sorayama, the Japanese illustrator whose “sexy robots” have earned their place in some of the world’s most prestigious galleries and art museums.
Last month, Hajime Sorayama celebrated his 70th birthday. In celebration, here’s a quick breakdown of who he is, what he’s done and why you’re probably already more familiar with his work than you think:
His First Robot Was Loosely Based on C-3PO
Hajime Sorayama, born in 1947, was in his late teens when he began sketching pin-up girls during classes at his Tokyo high school. After a brief experimentation with Greek literature he decided to study art and, soon after his graduation, began working for an advertising company.
It wasn’t until 1972 that he became a freelance illustrator, honing his skills for various clients before later drawing his first robot in 1978. Initially, Sorayama’s skills were enlisted to draw a character loosely based on Star Wars’ C-3PO without breaching copyright laws; he deviated from the classic visual mould of cyber-heroes and quickly developed a niche which would later lead to worldwide success.
He Developed His Own Unique Style of ‘Superrealism’
Hajime Sorayama’s love of pin-up girls bled into his work and resulted in the ‘gynoid’ – or ‘fembot’ – becoming his visual signature. He’s said in the past that his illustrations were less an example of fetishism than they were revelatory of seeing women as goddesses, which makes sense in the context of his robots being literally inhuman.
There’s a disturbing paradox at play in Hajime Sorayama’s work: the curves are based on the real feminine ideal but the cold, glistening metal introduces a barrier to desire.
In a sense, his cyborg femme fatales highlight the impossibility of the beauty standards we see in porn and in advertisements – the ultimate representation of unattainable desire.
Sex Sells, and Sorayama Knows It
It was during an interview for Juxtapoz magazine that Hajime Sorayama discussed the importance of balancing his own individual work with projects for big clients. His words highlight the dichotomy which continues to plague creative industries today: artists need to pursue their passion but also make money.
“At that time, doing commercial art would earn you a lot more exposure, so I cast my net wide and shallow in terms of my values,” he admits. “What can I say? When you’re young and taking on the world, the money at your fingertips seems more enticing than anything else.”
Still, this revenue from big collaborations allowed Hajime Sorayama to create an extensive body of work which features robotic depictions of cultural icons like Marilyn Monroe and the seminal cover art for Aerosmith’s Just Press Play.
His Robot Pin-ups Made It onto Playboy TV
Sex became a recurring theme in Hajime Sorayama’s work to the extent that his first book, released in 1983, was simply entitled Sexy Robot. Not only did his work receive acclaim within the art industry, publications including Penthouse and Playboy – both of which Sorayama was known to love – showcased his work. Penthouse published his pin-ups on a regular basis for several years, whereas Playboy dedicated a full-length TV special to his career.
Hajime Sorayama’s robots soon moved from nudity to outfits rendered in leather and latex, adding a new element of fetish to his work which slowly shifted from the medium of illustration to others including video, CD-Rom and even trading cards.
Thierry Mugler Created His Own Couture Sexy Robot
Nobody creates a spectacle quite like Thierry Mugler. In his heyday, the French couturier was renowned for his lengthy shows which mixed musical interludes and runway reveals with an unorthodox cast which featured supermodels as well as female bodybuilders, septuagenarians and drag queens.
It seems fitting that he brought Hajime Sorayama’s creations to life in 1995; as a backing track announced in French that was ‘the couture of yesterday which announces the couture of tomorrow,’ a model dressed in a floor-length black dress began to peel away the layers of tradition to reveal a perspex robot suit beneath.
The effect was one of a steel encasement, but there were cut-outs at the chest and backside which were a cheeky (ha!) nod to Hajime Sorayama’s sexy cyber pin-ups.
Sorayama’s ‘Robot Dog’ Is Now in the MoMA
Dogs are cute – this is an indisputable fact. Dogs are also expensive to care for, require regular attention and occasionally destroy your favourite furniture. Hajime Sorayama teamed up with Sony back in 1999 to bypass these problems by creating ‘AIBO,’ named after the Japanese word for ‘pal.’
Not only did AIBO react to its environment, it was fully trainable and designed to be a canine companion with artificial intelligence.The world’s first AI dog became a commercial success and, over a decade after its release, made its way into New York’s prestigious MoMA.
Unfortunately, even robot pets have a lifespan – in 2015, The New York Times released a heartbreaking video which saw families discuss the realization that not even their AIBO was immune to the inevitability of death. Still, 16 years is an impressive lifespan for a gadget and a sure sign of what technology could be capable of in the future.
The Star Wars Team Recently Enlisted His Talents
In a project that seems to bring Hajime Sorayama’s impressively lengthy career full circle, Star Wars director George Lucas reached out in 2013 to request a contribution to Star Wars Concept, an art book which pays tribute to the legendary franchise.
Lucas’ request resulted in the illustrator creating a hyper-sexualized image of the Betty droid used throughout the film’s Clone Wars; although the conical breasts and short fringed bob are present in Sorayama’s recreation, his glistening droid has her back arched and her head tilted back in a pin-up pose.
It seems fitting that, over thirty years after Hajime Sorayama first discovered his love for drawing robots through C-3PO, he’s now part of Star Wars’ visual legacy forever.
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- Lead image: Hajime Sorayama